(Cross-posted with TaniaWrites)
It is with great difficulty that I type this - not because of any physical impairment, but because the keyboard in the local library here in the Belgian town of Poperinge has moved the keys around. "A" is in the top left corner, "M" is off the right)hand side, the full stop requires you to press "shift", as do the numbers. It is slowing me down considerably so this will be short.
(How is that for short?)
I am here to take up the prize I won in last year's Biscuit Publishing Flash Fiction competition (this year's deadline is April 30th) a week at Talbot House, set up during World War I as a haven for British soldiers amidst the carnage and misery, an "Everyman's Club", a sanctuary. The house has been beautifully preserved and now guests can come and sleep in the bedrooms which used to house the soldiers. I am extremely fortunate to be in the General's Bedroom:
"The smallest room of the House (6 feet by 4) held just one bed. But this bed, however, was beyond compare: throughout the war we had one pair of sheets that belonged to it by right (though one sheet must be in the wash)."
The beds are new, as are the sheets, (and the bathrooms!!) but apart from that, it is like being allowed into a museum or stately home and told to run around, touch everything, use everything. Each bedroom has one of those museum-type explanation signs outside it, and this afternoon, as I was resting from my excursion into town this morning I heard a tour group outside read it aloud and then try the handle. But the General's Bedroom, is all mine for this week! There is a mult-denominational chapel in the attic which caused a flutter in my chest as I ascended the steep ladder-like stairs into it yesterday, a very sacred space I look forward to sitting in, and a museum, as well as a garden kept as it was so many years ago.
I was warmly welcomed by the current English-speaking warden; Steve, and his 12-year-old daughter and able assistant, Zoe, and immediately knew I was a world away from my miserable and freezing so-called "retreat" experience in France in November where the first thing I was given was a ten-page document of Do's and Don'ts - mostly Don'ts. Here, in this place which you might imagine there is fear that objects could be damaged, the only rule is "What to do in event of a fire". They even invite you to play the original piano in the dining room. This is a living, creative space, not something preserved behind glass, and it is all the more wonderful for it.
The town has a large number of chip shops and cafes, as well as some swanky boutiques (GUESS handbags: mmm) and much hand-made chocolate I am attempting to resist, clutching my quinoa bought in the local and well-stocked health food shop! We will see how long my resistance lasts.
I am not one who likes to read about war, to visit war memorials ant the like, finding today's conflicts enough for me to process, but Talbot House isn't about war, it seems to be about cameraderie, compassion, tranquility. I hope to imbibe much of this during my week here. I will share my pictures next week when I get back to crazy, frenzied WiFi-crowded London. For the moment, this quiet corner of the library, the challenging keyboard and chips with mayonnaise are just fine.